But These Go to 11: The Vision Behind OneLouder’s Top-Rated Social Apps
When it comes to mobile technology, Evan Conway calls himself an equal-opportunity geek. Every few months, he switches out his Android smartphone for his iPhone. He has an iPad at home, too, but lately he’s enjoying his Kindle Fire. Conway, the president of social media company OneLouder, purposefully alternates an operating system du jour.
“If I don’t live it, then I’m missing out on the experience,” Conway says.
It’s a good tip for multi-platform app developers, and it’s one of many from Conway, who is responsible for half a dozen top apps in the marketplace, including leading Twitter client TweetCaster and, as of April, the number one third-party Facebook app for Android, FriendCaster.
Not even a year after the company’s inception, OneLouder has over 15 million app downloads and speaks to more than 2.6 million followers on Twitter (where the company does most of its customer service). But then again, being social is OneLouder’s (and Conway’s) bread and butter.
“For us, social and mobile isn’t just a trend,” Conway says. “That is us. That’s our reason for existence.” But Conway’s inspiration for OneLouder as a company did stem from a trend seen last year—a notable movement in the app marketplace at the intersection between social-networking and mobile communication.
According to Nielsen in a Q3 2011 report, Americans were spending more time on Facebook than on any other website, and social-networking app usage was up 30 percent from Q2 2010. “It became obvious that social belonged on mobile, and a lot of experiences weren’t fantastic,” remembers Conway, then EVP of marketing at software and app development company Handmark Inc.
His observation lead him to pitch Handmark’s CEO and board of directors in the summer of 2011 with what was initially a marketing project, the TweetCaster app. “We had this really interesting opportunity to just go after the free mobile app space and to bring a social twist to it,” Conway says. “So we convinced the powers that be to provide the funding to let us take a shot at making this a separate commercial entity.”
In July, OneLouder launched as a fully owned subsidiary of Handmark, with Conway leading the company into the social app realm. All six apps in OneLouder’s arsenal would go on to become top-rated apps in their categories.
Every App: a “Triangle” of Experiences
The first and most significant way OneLouder made an impact in the mobile space was with its app architecture methodology. Conway refers to it as a triangle. “There’s the app, OneLouder (and our servers), and then a social network,” Conway says. Let us explain.
When you think of a sports app, what comes to mind? For us, it’s often an app that updates with sports news and game scores for the sports and teams of choice. And when you think of a Twitter app? You probably think of a continuous stream of tweets generated by the people you follow. But what happens when you combine those two app categories? You get OneLouder’s SportCaster app.
“What we’re trying to do is marry those two experiences,” Conway says. “One without the other is interesting, but when you combine the two, you can create a unique live experience that, frankly, you can’t get anywhere else.”
Those are two points of the triangle: the app category, and the social network feed. (In SportCaster’s case, it’s Twitter.) The third point is OneLouder itself.
“I think we’re different from a lot of app companies because we really built some technologies and platforms under the hood that allowed us to bring—just since July—a half dozen apps into the marketplace, with every single one of them being the top app in their category,” Conway says.
OneLouder’s “under the hood” technologies enhance a normal social app experience, such as Twitter. Take Twitter’s Lists feature, for instance. The concept of grouping tweets together is neat on its own, but when you combine it with TweetCaster’s ability to blend lists together (say, two sports teams’ tweets combine to give you a live game experience), lists are made more powerful.
“We’re trying to bring an added set of capabilities, as opposed to just simply being an on-ramp to a particular social network,” Conway says. The president of the 26-person company explains that this is where the hiring has been for OneLouder, finding, as he puts it, “talented people that want to develop new features and innovative capabilities, not simply residing on the app itself.” Conway himself came from a software development background—his father was a founder of Cornell University’s computer science department and is the author of a dozen software development books.
OneLouder's Plans to One-Up
So what other sorts of “innovative capabilities” can we expect from Conway and company? For one, there’s room for improvement when experiencing the OneLouder apps across multiple platforms. A March interview between The Recapp and Josh Sitzer, OneLouder’s marketing director, hinted that one upcoming feature may involve “marking” places in an app, no matter what platform it’s being used on.
“If you use TweetCaster all day on your Android device, when you come home and open it on your iPad, the app doesn’t know where you left off,” Sitzer said. “We think this could be better.”
Conway elaborated on the issue involving cross-platform app usage. “I think there’s a blurring of devices,” he says, using the example of mobile phones being used as home phones more frequently. “Is it a mobile phone when I’m sitting on the couch watching TV? Well, yeah. But I used to have a landline that did that same job.”
In the near future, Conway thinks it won’t matter what mobile device you’re using to obtain information, because really “we’re all walking around with little computers.”
This summer, OneLouder’s “top-secret double-probation app,” as Conway calls it, will have a website component connected to it, and it will fall in line with Conway’s “blurring of devices” theory. “The experience itself is going to start to blur from when you’re in your home, to your car, to your office, and [people] are going to want to be able to access the same information wherever they are.”
Conway noted that OneLouder is also looking to integrate more social-networking sites into its apps—Google+, Pinterest and foursquare being the popular names. “We’re definitely interested in some of those,” Conway says, stating that OneLouder even has “pretty detailed plans” and designs in place. “The biggest thing for us is that we’re waiting for full APIs to be made available.” Fair enough. There’s no definite estimate as to when the API for much-loved social bulletin site Pinterest will be ready to roll. An ITWeb interview in March with Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann simply implied “soon.”
For now, the social-networking platforms Facebook and Twitter seem to remain at the forefront for OneLouder’s apps. In Conway’s blog post for OneLouder.com titled “Mission 2012,” he wrote, “We LOVE Twitter and see so much more potential than is being realized currently.” We asked Conway to elaborate.
“Twitter has done an amazing job, and in many ways, it has ubiquitous name recognition in the United States. But there’s still a huge percentage of the country that’s confused about what it is,” Conway explains. Twitter feeds are largely empty when a Twitter account is activated, so it can be confusing and intimidating to learn the service and figure out whom to follow. “There’s an amazing opportunity to present [Twitter] in a more interesting way; one that helps people live it and enjoy it straight from the start.”
According to Conway, 90 percent of the people that begin using SportCaster do not have a Twitter account at first. Six months later, however, three quarters of those people have a Twitter account, “and there’s a great chance they will start using Twitter beyond SportCaster,” Conway adds. “I think there are some really neat opportunities to make [Twitter] more accessible.”
Conway laughs after he finishes his reflection on the service. “Five years from now, it might be weird to say, ‘Boy, I love Twitter.’ It could be as silly as saying, ‘Jeez, I sure do love websites.’”
Casting a Name for Itself
But Twitter isn’t just a resource for OneLouder. It was the basis for the company’s flagship app, TweetCaster, and for the “Caster” name in many OneLouder apps to follow.
“When we first came up with TweetCaster, it was because I was enamored (and still am) with Twitter itself,” Conway says. “But not just as a social network. For me, it was this sort of broadcast network.” Conway describes himself as a “longtime newsie,” so the name TweetCaster implied the service’s broadcasting capabilities.
The “caster” name saw such success it went on to accompany apps like FriendCaster, ChannelCaster and SportCaster. The odd ones out are BaconReader, OneLouder’s much-acclaimed Android app for reddit, and 1Weather, a well-received new app for 2012 that gets its name from OneLouder itself.
As for the OneLouder name? That comes from Conway’s other passion, music. As a longtime guitar player in a band that plays at clubs a few times a month, Conway took inspiration from “it’s one louder,” a phrase from the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap that referred to amplifiers that could be turned up to 11 instead of just 10.
Conway applied the phrase to an app company that vows to turn up the volume on social apps.